Belize Culture and People
“Belize is at once Caribbean and Central American. To Belizeans, this is not a contradiction but an affirmation that goes to the heart of their national identity and shared aspirations.” – Americas Magazine
Travelers to Belize quickly discover what makes Belize unique. It is the friendly people. Colorful personalities with an array of traditions and customs representing over ten diverse cultures make the Belizean people the country’s greatest resource and stewards of Belize’s tourism. Comprised of the Maya, Creole, Mestizo, Garifuna, East Indian, Mennonite, Arabs, North Americans and Chinese, this harmonious mixture results in one of the most peaceful countries in the region.
The Maya are the first known inhabitants of Belize, governing an advanced civilization more than two thousand years ago. The Maya, who have preserved many traditional customs and spiritual practices, comprise ten percent of Belize’s population. Through the Maya Home Stay Network, Maya families welcome visitors to stay with them and participate in daily activities such as tortilla preparation, farming, roof thatching, identifying traditional medicine and playing marimba music.
The descendants of African slaves and European settlers of the Colonial era, the Creole constitute a third of Belize’s population. From this culture has come one of the country’s dominant languages known as KRIOL, the national dish of rice and beans, and Boom and Chime music resonating from a blend of drums, accordion, banjo, harmonica and animal jawbones.
The Mestizo of Belize are a subtle reminder of Belize’s Spanish roots. Descendants of Maya and Spanish settlers, who immigrated to Belize during the Caste Wards of the Yucatan, the Mestizo live predominately in northern and western Belize. Rich flavorful soups such as Relleno, Chimole and Escabeche and widespread colorful town and village festivals contribute to the Belizean identity.
November 19th commemorates the arrival in 1823 of the Garifuna and their contribution to the Belizean landscape. The rich culture of the Garifuna includes the hypnotic drumbeat of popular music and longstanding helping traditions. In 2001 UNESCO proclaimed the Garifuna language, music, and dance to be among the masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.
Brought to Belize in the early 1800′s to work on sugar plantation in the north and south, the East Indian has quietly assimilated into the other ethnic groups of Belize. More recent immigrants from modern India are active in the merchant and business communities.
Two different Mennonite sects of German ancestry make their home in Belize. Their distinct communities maintain longstanding religious practices, customs and lifestyles. Both groups are prolific farmers. The traditional sect shun the combustion engine and wear somber clothing., whereas the more modern sect utilizes state-of-the-art machinery and farming practices and are an integral part of the Belizean economy.
Lebanese, Palestinians and Syrians make up a small but industrious group in Belize. Arriving in the late 19th century, these groups remain a closeknit community with a strong presence as merchants in towns and cities throughout the country.
This distinct group has quickly integrated into Belizean society. Hard working and diligent, they have maintained a strong community throughout Belize and operate primarily in the restaurant and merchant businesses.